The City University of New York will use $125 million in federal coronavirus stimulus funds to wipe out debt for 50,000 students who suffered hardships during the pandemic, it was announced Wednesday.
The CUNY Comeback Program will cover the costs of unpaid tuition and fee balances as well as provide emergency grants to students who experienced other financial woes Gov. Andrew Cuomo and CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez announced.
The federal stimulus funds were allocated to CUNY.
The financial assistance will help CUNY retain students after enrollment plummeted amid the severe COVID-19 outbreak last year, after in-person classes were cancelled and instead were offered only online. Many students work and attend part-time.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused hardships in the lives of so many New Yorkers, and our students were among those most impacted,” Cuomo said.
“This landmark new program eliminates millions of dollars in unpaid debt, providing much-needed relief to tens of thousands of CUNY students as they work to get back on their feet after the pandemic and plan for their futures.”
Chancellor Matos Rodriguez said the move would help the students recover for a difficult year.
“CUNY students showed their great resilience in the face of the immeasurable hardships they faced over the past 16 months, from employment and income loss to food and housing insecurity, amid an unprecedented health crisis that brought sickness and tragedy to thousands of New York families,” he said.
“This compassionate action will allow CUNY students and recent graduates to move ahead in pursuit of their educational and career objectives without the specter of unpaid tuition and fees. This landmark measure will also enhance CUNY’s important contributions to New York’s economic recovery.”
CUNY student debt nearly doubled during the pandemic.
The CUNY Board of Trustees approved the use of $125 million in federal stimulus funds for student relief and retention at a July 6 meeting.
While numbers are not yet finalized, CUNY estimates that at least 50,000 students will receive a pandemic debt-relief benefit.
The average debt balance is about $2,000.
A spokesman for US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer applauded CUNY’s use of stimulus funds to wipe out student debt, a pet issue of the senator.
“Senator Schumer fought hard and will continue to fight hard for New York’s collegiate institutions — CUNY, SUNY and others,” said his rep, Angelo Roefaro.
There are about 500,000 students who take courses at CUNY’s 11 senior colleges and 7 community colleges.
More than two-thirds of undergraduate students, or 69 percent, attend tuition-free thanks to state and federal aid. Three in four undergraduate students have graduated debt-free.